The Clippers Are Already Down One: LA Conundrum
The NBA postseason tipped off Saturday in the West Coast as the Clippers lost at the buzzer in a game that had, just seconds before, been tied up by a layup.
As the last televised game of the day the Clippers and Jazz matchup was slated to be the day's best and biggest contest. Earlier in the day, LeBron's saga of greatness almost hit a bump in the road as it needed a missed final attempt from the Pacers to seal the win for the Cavaliers 109-108. That was truly the only competitive game of the three games before the night’s finale in L.A., as both the Spurs and Bucks won by double digits.
Within the game's first minute, the Jazz had to switch up strategy, after their star center Rudy Gobert bumped knees with L.A.'s Luc Mbah a Moute during a screen set by Gobert. The Jazz eventually ruled Gobert out for the rest of the contest with an M.R.I. revealing a hyperextension and bone contusion, according to a report by ESPN Staff Writer Tim MacMahon. In a the-show-must-go-on moment, the Jazz brought Derrick Favors off the bench to man the middle alongside playoff veteran Boris Diaw, who started at power forward. Mere seconds later, Favors receives a defensive three second violation, explaining why he did not start in the first place.
The Clippers were the first to put points on the scoreboard, but they were not the last. The game’s final seconds were not spent respectfully dribbling out the clock. With the slowest pace possible in a clutch moment, following Chris Paul’s banked in floater off a DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll, “Iso” Joe Johnson strolled diagonally from the right side of the court to the left and, with 7 seconds left, got his matchup against Jamal Crawford after a screen forced Blake Griffin to switch off. Johnson takes a couple of seconds to visualize, then he drives the right side, running Crawford into Jordan’s legs and floating a shot that bounced around the rim a couple times before dropping through the net, giving the Jazz a 97-95 win in front of a disappointed Clippers home crowd.
Ever since Chris Paul joined DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin at the start of the 2011-2012 season, the Clippers have been in the spotlight as expected contenders. Strange, considering that the Clippers organization has not been very competitive since the franchise was founded as the Buffalo Braves in 1970s. But we don’t have to go that far back to show the turmoil this franchise has seen.
First off, the franchise has never won an NBA Championship. They’ve never even reached the Conference Finals. They moved from the frigid weather of Buffalo, New York to the steady weather of San Diego, California, just to become a steady bummer of a basketball team. Since 1970, the Clippers have made 14 appearances in the playoffs, and that means many long stretches of disappointing, we’ll-get-them-next-year seasons. The franchise’s most recent success is their only true success.
With the modern day Clippers’ big three on the court, the team attempting to represent Los Angeles alongside the Lakers has given their fans an ultimately, decidedly, purely hyped up season year in and year out. In the big three’s first year together, they were swept in the second round of the playoffs by the eventual Finals runner-ups: the San Antonio Spurs. In two of the last four seasons, with this season still undetermined, the Clippers have had two Western Conference Semi-Finals appearances — both losses.
The perpetual sob story that the Clippers have been for years has been a continuous adding-on process. A process that has shown promise from the get-go. Each of the big three make any team better, so why has this not blossomed into a completely, utterly dominant franchise even after trading for Doc Rivers to bring leadership and wisdom following his success with the Big Three in Boston?
The chemistry of the Clippers has never been something that people can put their finger on. From the very beginning, the team consisted of Blake Griffin who sat out the season he was drafted and DeAndre Jordan who had been established as their main guy for a couple seasons, and then brought in Chris Paul who would have been a Laker had Commissioner David Stern not vetoed the trade. In 2015, DeAndre Jordan had reportedly signed a deal that would land him in Dallas — a sign that things weren’t so great in Los Angeles. The rockiness of the situation showed when six days later Jordan signed a contract extension with the Clippers, never truly citing the reason. Over the last few seasons, there has been talks of trading Blake Griffin and speculation surrounding his free agency in the summer of 2017. Griffin was suspended four games in February for an altercation with an equipment manager. The sense is that Blake Griffin will not be in a Clippers uniform once next season commences since his motivations have been consistently questioned. Well, he was on the court for the most minutes (43) out of everyone who tallied time on the court. The big three’s abilities have always been highly-praised, with such accolades as DeAndre Jordan’s Defensive Player of the year considerations and Blake Griffin’s dunk contest victory. One person certainly stands out as a believer in this year’s Clippers...
Mitch Lawrence, a contributor for Forbes, wrote in an article published back in November, “the Clippers believe they have an edge over some opponents with their chemistry and continuity,” having stated that he believed Blake Griffin was an MVP-candidate and that the Clippers were a “defensive force.”
Well, the Clippers allowed league’s 12th least Offensive Points Per Game with 104.3 which, with the sharpshooters in the NBA, is pretty solid. Unfortunately the team they are facing in the first round, the lower seed despite the same record, is a bit more solid: the Jazz allowed a league-best 96.7 OPPG. The Clippers ended Saturday’s game with 95 points.
The Clippers must compete if they want to win a series that has already put the shovel to their cemetery plot. They always seem to play into the hands of their opponents. They must play out of themselves but within themselves, which seems fitting for the way this process is coming to an end.